Art

Trotsky on art

Art is important to people. It has always been so from the earliest human societies, when it was indissolubly linked to magic — that is, to the first primitive attempts of men and women to understand and gain control over the world in which they live. However, in class society art is so designed as to exclude the masses, and relegate them to an impoverished existence, not only in a material but in a spiritual sense.

In Roman times we had "bread and circuses"; now we have soap opera and pop music. Commercial art which sets out from the lowest common denominator is at once a useful soporific drug intended to keep the masses in a state of stupified contentment, while at the same time making a few capitalists exceedingly rich. By thus reducing the artistic level of society to a bare minimum, and increasingly alienating the "serious arts" from social reality, capitalism guarantees a continuous degeneration and pauperisation of art in general.

Confined to this rarified atmosphere, where it is obliged to feed off itself in the same way that factory-fed cows and chickens are fed the dead carcasses of other animals, and develop a deadly brain disease as a result, art becomes ever more sterile, empty and meaningless, so that even the artists themselves begin to sense the decay and become ever more restless and discontented. Their discontent, however, can lead nowhere insofar as it is not linked to the struggle for an alternative form of society in which art can find its way back to humanity. The solution to art's problems is not to be found in art, but only in society.

— From Marxism and art

Alan Woods, of the International Marxist Tendency, speaks to University of Arts' London students at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, where a replica of Picasso's great painting of the massacre at Guernica is on display. Using this powerful masterpiece as a starting point, Alan explores what makes great art; to what extent is great art a reflection of the period from which it comes; and can propaganda be great art?

Alan Woods gives a lecture at the Chelsea College of Art in London in April 2009. He deals with the important role art plays in revolutionary political movements and speaks about how art changes to reflect the social and political events of the time.

Alan Woods spoke at the IMT Winter School in Berlin on the subject of the relationship between Art and the Class Struggle.

In his The Mona Lisa Curse, the Australian art critic Robert Hughes subjected present-day commercialisation of art to a withering criticism. His programme was a damning indictment of the general tendency of art to degenerate into flashy triviality to the degree that it subordinates itself to money-making and capitalist market economics. It condemned the British artist Hirst for "functioning like a commercial brand" and destroying any true understanding of art in the public's mind by placing importance on the price tag alone.

The prophetic description of anonymous warfare, the blankets of darkness and death dropped over civilian populations still resonate. To the degree we realise the truth expressed in this work, Guernica stands as possibly the greatest painting of the 20th Century.

This year is the centenary of Dimitri Shostakovich, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, a giant who gave voice to the sufferings and triumphs of the Soviet people in one of the most turbulent and revolutionary periods in history. In this article Alan Woods attempts to show Shostakovich as he really was: a great Soviet artist who used music to express the terrible and inspiring events of the period in which he lived, a man of the people who believed in the possibility of a better world under socialism.

On this Easter Monday we are republishing an article by Rob Sewell in which he analyses the real origins of the early Christians. Quoting at length from Kautsky's The Foundations of Christianity he reveals the real nature of early Christianity and how it emerged as a movement of the oppressed in ancient Roman society, an early form of Communism.

Phil Mitchinson reviews a new book Remembering Arthur Miller and interviews one of the contributors, the well known director David Thacker who worked with the American playwright on numerous occasions and was the artistic director of the famous Young Vic theatre in London. Miller's courageous stand against McCarthyism is well known but perhaps less generally recognised is how important an influence politics in general played in his life and writings.

Twenty-five years ago today John Lennon was killed in New York. There was a mass outpouring of grief all over the world. This was because he symbolised something different from the mainstream music industry. He gave expression in the words of some of his songs the genuine feeling of disgust of many workers and youth at what capitalist society stands for.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of André Breton, one of the most outstanding literary representatives of surrealism, who tried to link art with revolutionary politics and collaborated for a time with Leon Trotsky. Alan Woods wrote this piece commemorating the great artist.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first publication of Don Quixote, the greatest masterpiece of Spanish literature. The working class, the class that has the greatest interest in fighting to defend culture, should celebrate this anniversary enthusiastically. This was the first great modern novel, written in a language that ordinary men and women could understand.

Last week, Arthur Miller, the dramatist who wrote plays that dealt with big moral and political questions in America, died. The legendary playwright, who continued his commitment to art and politics until the end of his life, was 89.

On Sunday evening, September 12, thousands gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square for the screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary film “Battleship Potemkin“ and to hear the Pet Shop Boys and the Dresdner Sinfoniker string orchestra. The presentation was accompanied by reminders of the many demos that have been through the square, with quotes from Marx and Engels.

It comes as no surprise to the art world that the recent Hopper Exhibition at the Tate Modern was an outstanding success. Harry Whittaker wrote this review while the exhibition was on.

Someone has said that one of the criteria for winning the Turner Prize is not to be understood. The philosophy behind this is: the less I am understood, the better the art. Yet the kind of art that wins the Turner competition also has merit. They have the merit of holding up a mirror to the society that produced them, and saying: “This is what you are, and this is all you are capable of producing.” These works point out to us that beneath the sleek, comfortable bourgeois surface of modern society, horrors are lurking: dead vermin, murder, death and decay.

Wole Soyinka is a prominent Nigerian playwright, and in 1986, he became the first African writer ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In October 1965, Soyinka was arrested for allegedly seizing the Western Region radio studios and using them to publicly dispute the published results of the recent elections, but in December of the same year, he was acquitted. Didi Cheeka of the Workers' Alternative Editorial Board looks at the ideas and works of this well known writer.

Goran M, after interviewing the famous Black American hip hop band Public Enemy, wrote this analysis of their background, how they emerged as a band, how their lyrics evolved, and what they generally stand for. He puts everything within the context of the struggles of the Afro-American community for their rights. Public Enemy clearly expressed, and continue to express, a growing radical mood among blacks, but also among all the youth.

Goya was one of the greatest artists of all time. His paintings are a priceless document of the history of the Spanish people. He painted the world in which he lived, and he painted it in terms of uncompromising realism. His entire outlook was shaped by great historical events - the French revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the ferocious struggle for national independence and the movement for liberal reform that followed it, a movement that was brutally crushed by the forces of darkness, obscurantism and reaction. This article is part of an important new series by Alan Woods called Art and revolution.